It’s true that everyone works better when they can communicate with ease.
You’ll likely have office staff who help to keep your business running smoothly.
Whether it’s individuals or teams of people who are committed to solving customer enquiries, scheduling appointments, handling payments, or overseeing stock control: it’s true that everyone works better when they can communicate with ease.
But just how well is your field service business communicating?
It’s true that a lack of communication can frequently result in big errors occurring in your business…you might even be experiencing problems already:
- Do you seem to miss out on scheduling appointments?
- Are parts often being ordered incorrectly?
- Are admin tasks taking too long to complete?
Inefficient communication could be the root cause of these problems and without sorting out the way every department interacts, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Fortunately, there’s a mixture of things you can do to optimise communication, both through digital solutions and best practices with your team.
Our own team here at Commusoft have given their insight too! Jack Sargent, Sales Manager, and Nisha Raghwani, Head of Client Operations, tell us how they manage to keep the day-to-day office tasks ticking over properly. It's a challenge, but that's part of the excitement too, right?
Here are our 7 tips to enhancing communication and optimising office tasks for your field service business:
- Create templates
- Set clear goals - tracked statistics can aid productivity
- Train your staff
- Encourage feedback and contribution
- Listen to staff and pay attention to reviews (then act!)
- Use technology
- Lead by example
1. Create templates
If there’s a standardised approach to communication, it will help to keep everyone on the same page. If they can connect easily (whether by phone, messenger, or other means), it reduces the odds of crossing wires and making mistakes.
Establishing a structure to your communication is the first step to success; even small changes will make a big impact to your interactions. A good example of a simple way to do this is to have your staff make use of standardised templates.
We suggest two approaches:
- Create a template for everyone’s email signature. It’s all about providing easy access to useful information, so make sure that contact information is included (name, job title, email, phone number and social media links). It’s quick to implement and gives you a professional edge that will help build trust with customers.
- Create templates for messages and responses that are frequently sent such as booking confirmations and service reminders. This will help to streamline response times to your customers, allowing you to send specific replies much faster and ensure consistency, which minimises the possibility for errors. It’s no use rewriting the same messages every day when it can be done in just a few clicks.
You can take strategies like these further, if you adopt an automated email solution that’s integrated with your job management software, like MailChimp. By pulling information directly from a database, messages can be autofilled, appearing bespoke to a customer. This is a particularly useful time-saving feature for staff who’re scheduling appointments and interacting with lots of customers on a regular basis.
Jack, our Sales Manager here at Commusoft, obviously spends a great deal of time chatting to customers everyday, by phone, email, and other means:
“Software really helps,'' he says, “and having the right tools behind you, whether it's something like HubSpot, Drift, or Outreach, all these sort of automation software. It definitely makes things easier.”
Interacting in this way, or even through use of a chatbot (you’ll see our CommuBot in the corner!) these tools can enhance your staff’s ability to communicate, and even open your business up to customer queries and more opportunities at any time of the day, throughout the year!
2. Set clear goals
For those of you who manage a team, you’re likely spending a good chunk of your time looking at statistics and assessing productivity. A communication plan helps. For Sales, that could be tracking how many calls have been made, call length, or even auto-counting how many customers they’ve engaged with over the course of a week.
From Sales to Client Services, knowing how quickly your staff are responding to queries, concerns, or job requests, can be immensely helpful and help you weigh up how efficiently the team is functioning, as Jack elaborates:
“It’s about how much effort we put into streamlining and giving a good experience to the customer and the whole process [...] Response time is key. My favourite part of our end of the week meeting is where they give the response time: Under 30 minutes, or under 15 minutes. It's like, yes! Then the times it’s under 10 minutes - that’s just great. Other companies say they can take two, three days to respond to a ticket or to an email, but a good response time really makes a difference.”
Jack’s right: these metrics can help you gain a clearer understanding of your performance. With them, you can take valuable steps toward tracking stats and figuring out trends to then come up with effective ways of improving your services.
For your plumbing and heating business, having an awareness of who you’ve spoken to and when can also provide useful insight into the queries you’re engaging with and what issues customers need help resolving.
3. Train your staff
If you’re trying to implement a digital solution to help your staff out, you’ll want to make sure you’re training them how to use job management software properly.
This may sound obvious, but as Nisha (and others) have warned, trying to implement a solution just to fix a problem without taking the time to do it right: well...it just won’t work.
If you don’t implement a proper fix, and guide people in the correct way, they may develop bad habits and “once you've got a bad habit, it’s harder to change, right? It becomes an instinctive bad habit.” For instance, if you’re transitioning to use software (or any new tool) it’s important to make sure people don’t form bad habits and make mistakes by thinking about old, outdated terminology as well.
Change can be difficult to get your head around, because as Nisha continues, “People will assume something means something else and then use it in that way,” so you need to prevent that by communicating, clearly, how and why a change is being implemented. Optimising your team with automation will bring benefits.
Training shouldn't be a one-and-done scenario either. If you're genuine about investing properly in your staff and maintaining a great service, it's a good idea to provide refresher training, particularly as programmes and software will adapt and update over time as well.
If you take the time to do so, to train your staff and make clear the value and really digest it (and also for yourself, though more on that shortly), your team will engage and can learn in a productive way.
4. Encourage feedback
As much as I love to talk about how great tech is at solving problems, it’s important to remember that you’re still dealing with people. Numbers are great to gain perspective, and automation is great for saving time and helping you earn more money, but you’re never going to learn how effective these changes are for your staff, personally, if you don’t consult them.
Let’s say you’ve implemented a mass scheduling solution that (in theory) allows staff to book appointments with ease. This system also automatically books and updates customers and engineers alike. Great! But is it actually doing that? Is it as easy to use as it’s meant to be? Are there bits of the solution that the employee isn’t finding easy to use, or features they’re unaware of?
You might have discovered a problem, but introducing a fix to these issues isn’t the end of the story: it’s another chapter and an opportunity to learn. So, you should encourage your team to feedback to you about their experience, especially if you're undergoing a major transition.
You may get questions from staff as to why a process keeps changing, but as Nisha says, it’s all to do with learning and adapting. After all:
“If I learned something but didn't change it, what's the point? You can never sit there and think this is the right way forever. In a month's time, things may have changed. I encourage the team to criticise because everyone looks at things in a different way, but we get feedback. We change.”
You could collect feedback before you implement any kind of change to make sure you’re taking steps in the right direction. You may see things one way, but if your staff are more involved in a set of tasks than you are, then that makes them the expert and it’s only wise to collect their feedback.
5. Listen to staff and pay attention to reviews (then act!):
Listening—as obvious as it may sound—is an essential part of communication, and no one wants to feel like their opinion is being overlooked. Collecting feedback and speaking to colleagues is one thing, but it's another to actually listen and act on it.
With that in mind, it’s important to nurture a culture of respect amongst your team and actively listen to what they have to say. There’ll be positive and negative points, as well as good suggestions and—while no suggestion should be dubbed bad—there'll be those that you can work on together. As Nisha says:
“Every day is a learning day. Even if it's made in a joke, I will still take that information back, process it and go: actually, although they said this [to be funny], is he making a valid point? Do I need to go back and look? Could we make a change? You can't change everything, but we definitely make an effort to ensure we learn and then go back and distribute that information to the relevant team.”
In these cases, it might mean you need to reflect on decisions that have been made and the responses you’re getting from customers, or staff, that require you to ask yourself questions:
- “Do my staff understand why we’re making this change?”
- “How’re they responding to changes?”
- “Are there trends in the positive or negative points that people are making?”
Listening to customer feedback via reviews is also important in much the same way. Their feedback and reaction to your services (and what they’re telling others) can be important indicators that help you dictate what changes you may need to make next.
6. Use technology
Back to the tech side of things (yay!); you’re only going to hinder yourself if you’re not making use of even the simplest of tools to help you communicate better. When we spoke to Paul Harrisson at Wolseley, he said they make use of Microsoft Teams to keep in touch, which helps them to streamline communication and even train people remotely via screen-sharing.
To give an example from Commusoft, we make use of programmes like Slack, a messenger tool that lets us speak amongst various teams, no matter where they are. These can be divided into specific departments or expanded across the wider business; it’s a great hub for us to connect instantly and effectively. Sure, it’s a polished version of WhatsApp, but it helps people feel more relaxed when interacting with colleagues, whilst still keeping things professional.
For your business, something like Slack could be an option worth looking into as well, but consider other simple communication tools like Facebook Groups or GoogleDrive, to help you send messages or store a whole host of easily shareable files, respectively.
Being able to integrate your communication with job management software is another way to boost team performance. Making your information easily accessible to a mobile workforce, in particular, it means that your engineers in the field and office staff will find it easier to share information with one another.
This can be used in a variety of ways, but let’s consider stock control an example. Imagine an engineer has been to a boiler replacement but needs a different length of pipe than what he has in his van. They can make a digital note that is automatically sent to the office staff, who can then make sure the necessary part is ready to be picked up from either a stockroom, or ordered from a supplier. All that's done in good time for the engineer to arrive back, collect and finish the appointment. Similar concepts apply to invoicing, job confirmations, and more.
7. Lead by example
A leader should have a knowledge of the tasks that they’re setting and context to understand how a team functions. This helps them manage better, and encourages employees to feel like they’re part of a well-oiled machine.
After all, we’d all surely want to work for a company we like, right? When people feel like they’re being invested in and valued, they’re less likely to leave your business: so taking steps to enhance communication can help reduce churn, for both office staff and engineers. Nisha made an excellent point during our discussion:
“There is nothing that my team does that I wouldn't do myself. What you don't want to do is be a manager in a department where the people who had all the knowledge disappeared. So don't walk away from your responsibilities as a manager, but more importantly, make sure you're involved. Day-to-day operations is about being involved in the grind. If you're just going to just delegate blindly, you won't know what's going on.”
Every day has its challenges at Commusoft, and we’re positive that’s the case for you too! So, it only makes sense to set yourself up in the best way possible to not only handle the unexpected, but also make the most of it and increase your productivity.
Even better: happy employees can pass that positive energy on to the customer. If they can feel confident in how they do their work, with a willingness to “go above and beyond” as Nisha says, then you’re more likely to see that return positively in all sorts of ways, from positive reviews, insightful engagement, and perhaps even an increase in revenue.
Optimising communication isn’t just about thinking of the best way to enhance your office staff and business processes (though it’s definitely an excellent perk), it’s also about taking care of your employees, and helping them (and yourself) to succeed!
These seven tips will help you go on to streamlining the way you communicate with a refreshed focus and practical ways to make productive changes!
We hope our tips have been helpful, but if you're after more advice: what about taking things even further with 10 Steps to level up your field service business? A lot has happened in 2019, so be sure to check if you've done all you can!
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